The United Nation’s Committee on the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has launched an investigation into the impact of Tory austerity cuts on vulnerable groups.
This inquiry will address more than 30 topics on a very broad remit and include questions on the gender pay gap, youth unemployment, migrant workers and asylum seekers and trade union rights.
They will investigate whether reforms have had a disproportionate impact on lone parents, children and disabled people – and also whether the tax credit cuts will leave people without an adequate standard of living.
The Committee will also investigate what steps are being taken to cut the number using food banks and whether mental health services are adequate in the light of the cuts.
Last year, Olivier De Schutter (a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), pointed to increases in the number of food banks in developed countries such as the UK, as an indicator that Governments are “in danger of failing in their duty to protect citizens under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” (IESCR). This states that all citizens should have access to an adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.
Iain Duncan Smith told the Work and Pensions Select Committee yesterday that he intends to place job advisors in food banks, indicating that the government considers charitable food banks are now a compensatory and integral part of welfare provision, and to plug the gaps in increasingly woefully provision due to punitive Tory welfare cuts. It’s harking back to the patchy and discriminatory poor relief administered by a voluntary private nineteenth-century welfare system of charitable and voluntary organizations, which were a Conservative response to their ever-present fears of burdening rate payers – the “undeserving, dependent” able-bodied pauper.
Iain Duncan Smith also presents a late recognition and tacit admission of a clear link between Conservative welfare policy, benefit sanctions, benefit delays, and the rise in food bank use, which was previously denied by the government.
The inquiry is part of a periodic review of all the countries that have signed up to the covenant, and a UN delegation of independent experts from several countries is set to hold public six-hour talks with government officials next summer.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) submitted a report to the UN Committee, presenting its assessment of the implementation of socio-economic rights in the UK. Concerns include:
- Adequate standard of living, including: fair financial decision-making; impact of social security reforms on people with disabilities, women, and children; and income, child and food poverty;
- Access to healthcare, including: people with disabilities; older people; other vulnerable groups; and adults and children with mental health problems;
- Access to education, including: access to further and higher education;
- Access to civil law justice, including: the impact of reforms introduced through the Legal aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; and the proposed residence test;
- Violence against women and girls;
- Just and favorable working conditions, including: low pay, migrant workers and overseas domestic workers;
- Equal pay gaps, including: the gender, race and disability pay gaps.
- Cumulative impact assessments of government policies
A United Nations spokesperson said the review hasn’t been launched due to a particular concern. However, representatives from Just Fair – a consortium of 70 UK charities and NGOs – met with the CESCR in Geneva a fortnight ago to discuss concerns about the erosion of rights to food and housing, and the economic and social rights of disabled people.
Jamie Burton, the chair of Just Fair, said: “The decision of the committee to investigate these issues is timely and welcome. We and many others are concerned about the adverse impact austerity policies have had on the least well-off and already marginalised in society, including those in work.
“In the one of the richest countries in the world, people do not have enough food to eat or decent housing to live in. Worst of all, the measures have hit children, single mothers and people with disabilities the hardest. As the tax credits scandal shows, the public is turning against these policies precisely because they are so unfair.”
The United Nations Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is holding separate confidential hearings in the UK as part of an investigation into the effects of welfare cuts, during which it will speak to campaigners, lawyers and service users.
This inquiry was triggered as a response to an emergency situation, regarding allegations of “grave and systematic” violations of the rights of disabled people.
This month, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, designated Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, expressed her deep concern about the effect of different nations austerity measures on persons with disabilities.
“While adopting austerity measures, some countries make budget cuts that have a profound impact on the livelihood of persons with disabilities and their right to live independently in their community.”
She added: “Inclusive social protection is essential to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. The inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection systems is not only a question of rights, but also a crucial step to move towards the proposed new SDGs: end poverty in all its forms everywhere; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and reduce inequalities.”
It is the view of many people in the UK that the government are dismantling the gains of our post-war settlement, taking money away from those with the very least, and justifying this by claiming the alternative would be to burden our children with a national debt.
But the excuse of “paying down the debt” is a flimsy one, given that it’s still growing under the Conservatives; in a regressively punitive welfare, low pay, low-income tax receipt society.
Yet the Conservatives are quite happy to condemn so many of the next generation to a future of lost opportunity and entrenched poverty, stripping them of dignity and contravening their fundamental human rights. Cameron claims that he will address poverty, yet continues to cut the income of those with the least.
Meanwhile, under this government, the privileged class is treated to handouts in the form of tax breaks and endless financial perks. Such disparity and disproportionality in the targeting of austerity has led to inequality in the UK rising under this government, to become higher than in any other EU country, and even higher than in the United States.
Further reductions to welfare, including in-work benefits and funds available to public services, shows clearly that the burden of reducing the deficit – a self-imposed moving goalpost of this government – falls only on the poorest, whose modest funds are considered by this government as the disposable income of the Treasury.
The cuts that target the poorest are ideologically-driven decisions, taken within a context of other available choices and more humane options.